I had never seen any of the Pratincole family so when a Black-winged Pratincole was found in Kent on the 8th May I was more than interested, with the Black-winged Pratincole being the rarer of the 2 Pratincole species recorded in this country I couldn't resist the chance to go and see it. Due to other engagements I couldn't go straight away and hoped that the bird would remain until I had a chance to go and see it. I contacted my Berks Bird Race team mate Roy Rose and we arranged a visit for the next free available date for both of us.
Saturday the 23rd arrived and thankfully the Black-winged Pratincole was still at Grove Ferry NNR, Kent and often commuting to the nearby Stodmarsh Reserve, some excellent photos published on Birdguides added to my excitement and as soon as Roy arrived we loaded up the car and set off for Kent.
We arrived at Grove Ferry NNR and parked in the car park with Roy paying for a ticket that we later realised we didn't need on a weekend. Crossing the road we headed along the footpath towards a group of people assembled in the distance, walking along the path Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Sedge Warbler could all be heard singing in the hedgerows and trees beside the path. After a short walk we arrived at the observation point and joined twenty or so birders who were viewing a mud spit on the water, the Black-winged Pratincole was present but hidden behind grass and weeds and a group of Mallards that were asleep or preening. It was possible to see the tail feathers of the Prratincole and every so often a brief glimpse of it was seen as the Mallards moved around it, I was taken back by how small it was and the surrounding Mallards gave a good size comparison.
Whilst we waited for the Pratincole to come in to view from behind the Mallards we scanned the wetlands, a single Redshank and 2 Greenshank were wading through the edges of the water behind the spit, 2 Ringed Plovers and 3 Common Terns on the spit, 3 (2m&1f) Garganey were present often swimming briefly in to view before disappearing amongst the reeds and 4 Black-tailed Godwits were busy feeding on an adjacent pool.
After a short wait the Pratincole became visible again amongst the Mallards on the spit, it took a short walk from the group of Mallards picking off a few low flying insects from the ground before taking to the air where it slowly gained height and began hawking insects in flight. It continued hawking acrobatically for at least 30 minutes often gaining great height before swooping down as it searched for insects, it's Tern-like flight was incredible to see and we got great views as the Pratincole flew closer and closer until it was almost overhead.
Looking out from the observation ramp a Kestrel appeared in the distance shortly followed by a single Hobby which drifted overhead, there was so much going on at this point it was difficult to know what to look at. 2 Marsh Harriers drifted over the reeds and gave very good views as they slowly quartered the reedbeds often coming to rest in the reeds. A single Little Egret appeared low in flight over the wetlands and by the time I had quickly checked where the Pratincole was the Egret had disappeared. During the whole time we were there a Cuckoo called constantly and a brief burst of song from a Cetti's Warbler was also heard.
For some excellent photos of the Black-winged Pratincole visit Steve Ashton's website www.eastkentwildlifepics.co.uk